Sun, May 07, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Ground Zero rethink after building costs soar to US$1 billion


A radical review of the proposed memorial at the site of the destroyed World Trade Center began on Friday after it emerged that the current plans could cost US$1 billion to complete.

The projected price -- double the estimate given in January by New York Governor George Pataki -- was received with disbelief in the city. It prompted Mayor Michael Bloomberg to step in to try to limit the cost.

"There's just not an unlimited amount of money that we can spend on a memorial," Bloomberg said.

The New York Daily News condemned the US$1 billion figure as "unaffordable, impractical [and] rather shocking." The New York Times, which obtained a confidential memo revealing the estimate, called it "breathtaking."

Even at its original estimated cost of US$490 million, the design -- Reflecting Absence, by the architect Michael Arad -- was by far the most expensive memorial in US history. Maya Lin's Vietnam Veterans Memorial, a black granite wall in Washington, cost US$7 million. Taking inflation into account, US$1 billion would be more than a quarter of the original cost of the twin towers that were destroyed in 2001.

Arad's proposal, which beat 5,200 other entries in an international competition, calls for two sunken pools on the footprints of the towers, with ramps leading underground to lists of victims and ultimately down to the bedrock on which the skyscrapers were built.

The World Trade Center Memorial Foundation is thought to have raised only US$130 million. Along with an injection of state and city funds, that would put the maximum feasible budget at about US$500 million.

Bloomberg said that he had reached agreement with the governor and New Jersey -- the state co-owning the site -- that US$500 million was the sum "they're going to have to learn to figure out how to deal with."

The broader process of redevelopment at Ground Zero appeared to have reached a more hopeful stage last week when city and state authorities reached a deal with Larry Silverstein, who owned the lease on the destroyed towers, allowing construction of Daniel Libeskind's Freedom Tower to begin there.

A coalition of bereaved families, however, has been suing the foundation in an effort to halt Arad's design, arguing that the plan does not do enough to honor their relatives.

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